Posts Tagged ‘Vulnerability’

From time to time, I am invited to give a keynote presentation. More and more i am adding multimedia elements to that: video, audio, even silence. This transmedia approach is also something that keeps inspiring me when doing my day job, where i am architect and content curator of “events”. I always say that i am not in the “events” business but in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences. That’s quite a different ballgame.

Some fans believe that what I do with our flagship Innotribe@Sibos is where i put the bar. It is not.

It is my starting point.

I really would like to go much further in touching my audience at another, additional level than purely the cognitive level. That’s why i believe a multi-sensory, more intimate, even business romantic experience is needed.

That’s why i love so much the work of Tim Leberecht, here in a recent talk at TEDxIstanbul:

I strongly recommend you watch this talk for the full 18 minutes. And read the book it is based on.

Tim Leberecht, author of the book The Business Romantic and chief marketing officer of global design firm NBBJ and, worries that big data, algorithms, and self-tracking technologies are engineering the romance out of our lives. He argues that we can find and create more meaning, and even magic, by designing experiences that connect us with something greater than ourselves. He contends that we all long for moments that are powerful precisely because they are inexplicable, such as acts of collective generosity, random digressions, and exuberant passions, and even the beauty of losing control.

He is referring to “Unexpected moments of beauty, awe and wonders, the detours and digressions, the cracks of imperfection, that make a heart speed faster, adrenaline rush, moments in which we loose control, and fall in love with everything.”

When was the last moment in your professional life when you had an experience like that?

It seems that only the measured life is a good life. Optimized by algorithms. I don’t believe in that anymore. There must be something better, more intimate, more unique, more transient, less about scaling and optimizing.

There is another great new book by Matthew Crawford, called “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”

World beyond your head

It’s not an easy read, but Oliver Burkeman from The Guardian reviews: “Crawford has a point … adverts are everywhere, so much so you have to pay to escape. There are real benefits to silence. No great book, or idea comes without a degree of silence. Independent thinking is not possible without it. Perhaps this is why so many corporations and institutions demand our attention – and why we should protect it Scotsman Incisive. It’s philosophy as an intervention in issues of the day.”

And The Chronicle of Higher Education raves: “The most cogent and incisive book of social criticism I’ve read in a long time: accessible, demanding, and rewarding. Reading it is like putting on a pair of perfectly suited prescription glasses after a long period of squinting one’s way through life”

The book describes the big disconnect between our agency (or the illusion of it, by seemingly being in control by clicking some buttons on an app) and the result of our agency, the work, the piece of craftsmanship, that piece of art.

That’s why i deeply refuse to see my work “as a job”. Work should equal meaning should equal passion should equal Art. The artist’s way…

That’s why i subscribed again to Art School last year, and i just registered again for the 2015-2016 season. Last year was about drawing, next year will be about painting.


Own artwork @petervan 2015 - pencil on paper and some water diluted black chinese ink

That’s why i carved out some quality time for myself on Fridays, when i experiment with art, sound and poetry. And i installed a small studio in my atelier at home, with a MIDI keyboard attached to my Mac, running Garageband and Ableton Software. I also got myself a “Push”, a special hardware device to play music and create sound landscapes in Ableton.


So i started thinking about what it would take to evolve my presentations into some sort of performance, where i only use my own artwork, my own self-composed sound landscapes and my self-written poetry. And do it LIVE! Standing in full vulnerability.

And what would a trailer for such a live performance look like? Here is a little experiment… The trailer is just an existing iMovie template tweaked with my own artwork.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/132009275″>The Spooky World of @Petervan</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user29570471″>Peter Vander Auwer</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I showed it to some friends, and i was surprised how much a little thingie like this can create emotional reactions. Somebody else wanted me to do some commissioned work to create an immersive learning performance for a marketing event in 2016. Yet somebody else wants me to completely re-invent their executive off-sites to move them away from the boring flipcharts, whiteboards, post-its, scribing, and gamification tricks. And move them into deep intimate and almost zen-like retreats with tailer made, unique and transient multi-sensory experiences to create high quality connections of human beings on a mission for genuine and positive impact.

All these formats create a new type of scarcity, experiences that we can’t fully posses, experiences that don’t last, experiences that we don’t fully comprehend. They restore friction and doubt in a world of certainty, knowledge, and seamlessness-ness.

Formats where it is not about rapid prototyping, nor about fast iteration tracks to find a solution for a problem. We have to get out of problem solving mode. We already do that the whole year long. I believe we are hungry for a higher quality of being truly present. What Tim Leberecht calls:

“Being Thickly Present”

Maybe i am onto something that may lead to another level of awareness and articulation of corporate narratives beyond the hollow mission statements. Entering a new age of enchantment, in search for something bigger and more valuable than all that what can be measured. The beauty of things that don’t scale. Beauty keeps on chasing me. I wrote about it in “Confused by Beauty” and “The Battle for Beauty” featuring once more The Business Romantic.

What do you think? Let’s have a conversation 😉


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Artwork Petervan 2015 - Thinking Man - Pencil and watercolour

Since a couple of months, I am chewing on a couple of themes that feel interrelated. Themes like scale, uniqueness, and beauty, eternal, ephemeral, one-ness, and only-ness.

I started wondering:

  • What if scale is not the answer?
  • What if I would start focusing on my uniqueness?
  • What if beauty becomes more important than function?

I was on a track where I believed that scale and uniqueness where opposites, and I only wanted to do things that were unique, one-time, never repeating, and NOT trying to create efficiencies. NOT trying to create economies of scale and/or scope.

I spoke to many people about this, and every time I saw their eyes glazing, wondering what world I was living in, and whether I was completely disconnected from business reality, or from reality full stop.

I was more or less told to conform, to behave, to try to do what everybody else was doing: running around at being very busy and being hyper-efficient in doing and scaling things that in my mind were not very meaningful.

During a walk-n-talk months ago with Nilofer, she hinted that uniqueness and scale are in different categories.

Some others hinted me at the concept of doing something that is NOT designed to repeat and permanence made them also think about the opposite, when one created with the objective of only happening once, designed to be ephemeral. Like making a drawing on the beach that is washed away by the waves. If you were not there, you have not seen it. At best it’s documented on video. But the performance itself was unique, only happened once.

Like the snow Art by Simon Beck: working hours on one snow drawing, enjoying the ephemeral beauty of it, but with the certainty that it will be gone with the new thaw of the next snowstorm

Snow Art

I took all the advice, and kept thinking.

I thought I landed on something named


But that started smelling too fast like slow food or some other sort of new fashion. It was also a different “unscale” than Hemant Teneja’s https://hbr.org/2013/10/economies-of-unscale-why-business-has-never-been-easier-for-the-little-guy/ .

It was also a different “ephemeral”, different from the ephemeral messaging like Snapchat who were just valued at 10B USD.


I was reading Amanda Palmer’s foreword in Cory Doctorow’s latest “Information does NOT want to be free”, where she mentioned there will always only be one Grateful Dead.


They realize that companies won’t be manufacturing millions of identical things, but will need to make hundreds, perhaps thousands, of slightly different things

Learning how to do that—how to make an evening interesting for an audience, with just me and a stage and things I’d written, partly because it seemed to me that one day it might not be as easy to make money from selling stories in the traditional way

Many of us became authors in order to avoid getting up on stages in the first place

I started looking in to the concept of “One-Ness”, which is about integrated meditative consumption, unity, even Greek mysticism.

I started reading some of Nilofer’s first articulations of “Only-Ness” http://nilofermerchant.com/2013/01/17/onlyness-the-topic-and-the-talk-at-tedxhouston/

Onlyness is that thing that only that one individual can bring to a situation. It includes the journey and passions of each human. Onlyness is fundamentally about honoring each person: first as we view ourselves and second as we are valued. Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as “perfect” as we might want, but even those experiences are a source for what you create. For example, the person whose younger sibling has a disease might grow up to work in medicine to find the cure. The person who is obsessed with beautiful details might end up caring about industrial design and reinvent how we all use technology. The person who has grown up under oppression might end up advocating for freedom of speech and thus advance the condition of his country. This individual onlyness is the fuel of vast creativity, innovations, and adaptability.

Embracing onlyness means that, as contributors, we must embrace our history, not deny it. This includes both our “dark” and our “light” sides.

Each onlyness is essential for solving new problems, as well as for finding new solutions to old problems. Without it, people are simply cogs in a machine – dispensable and undervalued – and we’re back to the 800-pound gorilla approach in organizations (and our economy). With it, gazelles [employees, community members, and partners] are singularly unique and able to contribute meaningfully.

And then it suddenly dawned on me: I was mixing up several dimensions.

I tried to articulate my insights in a Powerpoint slide:

uniqueness and scale

There are 3 dimensions in this slide. I was balancing in the zone between uniqueness and ephemeral. But found it difficult to integrate the 3rd dimension of Scale/Scope. In fact, the slide was two-dimensional only. I needed a sphere. I decide to hand draw it:

Scale Unscale

Dimension-1: the spectrum from Permanent to Ephemeral

  • Permanence, the same tone as “Long Now”, “Many-Ness”, things that are designed to last
  • Ephemeral, the same tone as Short Now”, “One-Ness”, things that are designed to disappear, not to last, like the snow art

Dimension-2: the spectrum from Uniqueness to Commodity

  • Uniqueness, the same tone as Nilofer’s Only-Ness
  • Commodity, the same tone as “Multi-Ness”

Dimension-3: the spectrum from Scope to Scale

  • Scale: what everybody seems to focus on. Investors don’t invest if it does not have the potential to scale, to be viral. The tone of “economies of scale”. For some sort of efficiency game. Still don’t like it, even if I can imagine something when Only-ness starts to Scale
  • Scope: what seems to count when one thinks platform business or platform economics.

I don’t want to scale nor scope my Only-Ness, my Petervan-Ness.

I want to create unique performances, multi-media, trans-media experiences, where I touch my audience at another (additional) level than the pure cognitive. I’d love to resonate at a subconscious level, with very unique storytelling and narratives. All build up from my own writing, artwork and self-composed music, sound and light landscapes.

I am entering a period in my career of “multiple gigs”.

I have installed a small studio at home. Maybe the embryo of Petervan Productions. Trying to master new tools. Trying to have the first story ready for dry-runs by March 2015. And a first live performance around summer. For small audiences only. Not to scale but to un-scale my Only-Ness.

Let me know if you want to be part of one of the dry-runs.

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Back to Academy

Way back in the seventies, i studied architecture at Sint-Lucas School of Architecture in Brussels and Ghent. Apparently – after 150 years of existence – the school is since 2012/2013 part of the LUCA School of Arts in association with the Catholic University of Leuven as the “Faculty of Architecture”


At the time the Ghent campus was located at the Zwarte Zusterstraat (picture) above, an intimate included safe zone between walls, trees in the middle the old city centre. I still remember the smell of paper and ink of the old attic where the architecture courses and practice labs took place.

Anyway, i dropped-out after  4 out of 5 years study, because i did not like the admin/legal part of the studies. I come from a normal middle class family, and paying for these studies was not just a tick-box for my parents. When i decided to quit, they were not happy and they “encouraged” me to find a job and an apartment and live as a big boy paying for his own cost and living.

Last year, after almost 35 years of professional career, and 7+ years fighting the battle for innovation at SWIFT, i felt physically and mentally exhausted, I requested a sabbatical leave for 6 months, which was kindly accepted by my employer – thank you.


I wanted to get in better contact with my other self, not the cognitive part, but the more un/sub-conscious part of myself. I wanted to inject other forms of expression in my work. One of the ambitions was to go back to Art School, to give some counterweight to that cognitive part of my professional life. Unfortunately by that time of the year, it was to late to get registered and i just messed around a bit on my own.

But this year, i was early and got registered early. So, i started Art School in Sep 2014 at the local but quite well equipped and staffed academy “BKO” (link Dutch only) of my home town Overijse.


It’s relatively intense: 9 hours practice per week on Tuesday morning, Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. For the Tuesday morning, i just take 1/2 days off. It’s practice, not theory. Not too much fuss, just try and experiment with materials, and some good honest coaching.

I still have architecture drawing and sketching in the fingers.


But that is about straight lines. I found it much harder to do curved lines. Of human bodies for example. It probably says more about how my brain is wired than i dare to admit.

The coaches encouraged me to “let-go”. Here are some early experiments. Let me know what you think.

IMG_4345    IMG_4348



The above is all small format: A4 or A3. At a drawing table. It’s a bit hiding. We will soon start experimenting with big format, and working on easels. Did some early try-outs last week, and the big format and standing drawing position are so unnatural for me, it really pushes me out of my comfort zone.

Stay tuned


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Previous posts were impressions of some great conferences I recently attended.

This blog post is different. It is more a personal reflection.

I invite you to join me on my journey.

In our company, failure is not an option (FNOA). That’s quite normal given the nature of our business: a worldwide business-to-business network for mainly international financial transactions. That’s not something you mess around with: rightfully so.

Recently, when attending the Compass Summit, there were a couple of sessions on risk management. Some examples were given how risk is assessed in other businesses such as investments in oil refineries, also an important and critical infrastructure. The similarities with our business were obvious.

There is always the tension between investing in proven technologies and taking some risk with less proven innovative technologies. Moreover, any investment in such space usually commits you for long periods:  10-40 years.  So, you better make the right choice.

All the risk managers I have met are highly responsible people. I can imagine that people making such decisions do their homework and base their assessments on extensive risk analysis. There are for sure many techniques, processes and best practices for this.

But what about the more unconscious parts

of these and other decision processes?

Do emotional and less rational processes play a role? Such as doubt? Such as uncertainty? Such as fear?

  • Fear to make the wrong choice.
  • Fear of taking the leap of faith and switch to the next wave of technologies.
  • Fear of holding back.

I did some introspection in my own state of mind and what’s holding me back some days.

I realize that by sharing this, I do show some personal vulnerability (see video Brené Brown), but i take the risk. Because I am a strong believer of open mind, open heart, and open will. And would like to make more “human” connections with all those who I care about: my family, my friends, my colleagues, my followers, the followed. Because I believe openness leads to transparency, better connections, better choices, and more conscious corporations with a real soul. I would like more people showing some vulnerability.

It feels so much more human.

As some of you may have noticed, I am quite active on twitter. I read a lot. I follow more than 1,000 RSS feeds. I try to stay up to date. I believe my readers appreciate. I believe my employer appreciates the holistic view I bring to the table. I appreciate their feedback and it gives me energy.

Staying up-to-date is a matter of discipline.  In principle, I reserve time early in the morning, during lunch breaks, and late in the evening when the kid is to bed, and everything is silent. I estimate it’s about 3-4 hours per day before and after working hours: quite an investment and intensity.

And with this sort of intensity, I realize every day that there is so much good stuff out there on the edges of our ecosystem. There are so many inspiring people out there, so many inspiring ideas.

Is it just a dream that one could live

in such a permanent inspiring environment?

When I come back to the office, into the “real” world, I often wonder how I can make that knowledge stock more relevant for our company, for our community. How can I create a knowledge flow from my knowledge stock? What’s a better way of sharing? With some more rubber hitting the road. And to see more significant progress and results of our innovation activities.

It becomes almost

an existential question

“What am I doing here if nothing or very little of these spotted innovations, prototypes, and incubations ever hit our mainstream business?”

As Nick Carr wrote in The Shallows (Amazon Affiliate link), all this exposure to scattered new stuff does something with your brain. You start getting used to “scanning”.

It’s a different type of attention, a different type of presence or even “non-presence”. And it becomes difficult to focus for some longer time on something specific, even something as simple as reading a book.

Scanning leads to distraction. Overflow. Not seeing clear anymore. But on the other hand, you become much better in making connections between topics, memes and trends.

Just the other day, a friend called me, and she was in awe for the progress we had made with Innotribe. And also for the personal growth progress I had made myself.

I am not sure. I am in doubt. Maybe I don’t see it. Maybe I don’t see the progress anymore, to close to see clear.  Forgetting the take the time to take the helicopter view.

  • Maybe that’s why I feel more like stagnating.
  • Maybe I am too hungry.
  • Maybe I don’t walk the talk of letting emerge what needs to be.
  • Maybe I don’t celebrate enough progress.
  • Maybe I am too closed.

Even more closed with people I like a lot. Then I feel afraid.

  • Afraid of jumping and making bold moves
  • Afraid of sticking out my neck even more.
  • Afraid of showing some/all my vulnerabilities.
  • Afraid of being hurt.
  • Afraid of giving too much, and not getting back.
  • Afraid of opening up
  • Afraid of the unknown in opening up.
  • Afraid of discovering emptiness.
  • Afraid of loosing control.
  • Afraid of jumping in the empty hole.
  • Afraid of standing in the full fire.
  • Afraid of my true self.
  • Afraid of being free.

I am hungry to be free. 100% free. In the sense of being “alive”, being 100% in my true flow, free from internal blockages such as fear. Free like in letting myself go in dancing. Free like in my most creative moments.

And then, just the other night, coincidently – there are no co-incidences, I believe a lot in synchronicity and that the things that come to you had to come to you – I was picking up again that book of Christopher Alexander in “The Timeless Way of Building” (Amazon Affiliates link) about patterns in architecture.

Chapter 2 is about “The quality without a name”. It made me aware that what I am chasing is more than “free”. I recommend anybody to read this chapter, for me it’s like an ideal compass for life:

There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named


It is a subtle kind of freedom from inner contradictions


… the most primitive feeling which an animal or a man can have, as primitive as the intuition which tells us when something is false or true.

Attributes of this quality without a name are:

  • Alive
  • Whole
  • Comfortable
  • Free
  • Exact (like in “right”)
  • Egoless
  • Eternal

But maybe I should not try to chase “free” or to chase that unnamed quality.

Maybe that unnamed quality is an illusion.

I don’t think so. I would surely hope not so.

The day

I am not after

that unnamed quality,

I better stop

Going relentlessly

after that unnamed quality

IS my reason for being

But the hunt for better and more quality sucks ànd gives energy.

And sometimes I need a pause. Time to reboot. Step out of the treadmill. Take distance. Re-connect with my true self. Pure silence and no distraction. Presence. More conscious.

Sometimes, I imagine living in a convent or on a desolated island. Nothing fancy. Almost minimalistic: small Spartan room, clean, bare furniture, some simple fair food and some wine. And reading. Musing. Reflecting. Having a tribe following.

Maybe that’s enough.

  • But wouldn’t I feel bored pretty soon?
  • Wouldn’t I become a fugitive of myself?
  • Prisoner of my own fear?

So, I have come to the conclusion that

fear is not an option

I believe that one has to hit the bottom of fear, and stay there for some time. And be present in that bottom moment. And let emerge and let happens what comes.

You can’t “steer” everything in live. Probably nothing. I don’t believe anymore one can “steer” innovation, that one can steer change. That a subject for a subsequent post 😉

Some things cannot be planned. You have to let go, and take the leap of faith.

The only way to make personal and professional progress is to jump. Take the risk. Stick out your neck. And fail sometimes. Fail many times. Re-start. Retry. Fail. Retry. Success. Repeat.

Do you have fear? Do you have doubts? Do you need time to reboot? To re-connect with your true self?

What does this do with you? How does this resonate with you? Does this want you to respond and share your own perspective and experiences?

Or is it more, OMG…

Let me know.


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